Whatever your tastes in movies is, whether you want a piece of arthouse cinema to smash your brain and sink your teeth into, or whether you just want to be entertained by pure escapism, all of that goes out the window when there is a really great dog movie to watch. Seriously, I consider myself to be a cultured fan of the arts, but if you show me movies about dogs, all pretension goes out the window and I’m a blubbering mess, with half an eye on the screen while I look at rescue dogs online. If you’re anything like me, then this list of 10 movies about dogs will be a must-read.
Cats and Dogs
Starting us off in our list of movies about dogs comes a battle as old as time itself. Granted, Cats and Dogs is a strange movie, but the dogs are spies and the cats are diabolical rulers and expert assassins. You can’t get cuter than that. The voice cast is surprisingly strong with Tobey McGuire being a perfect fit for the accidental rookie agent, Lou the beagle, Alec Baldwin is superb as Lou’s senior officer, Butch, and Will and Grace’s Sean Hayes as the leader of the cats, Mr. Twinkles. Make fun of this movie all you want but every cat owner was convinced that if their cat could talk it would sound like Jack from Will and Grace. As an added bonus, the internet’s favorite strange uncle, Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist. The noughties were a weird decade
2008 was only a decade ago but the state of the animation genre was a lot different. Pixar was running the game, with another Oscar-winning masterpiece, Wall-E, making all the headlines. Disney, despite its connection to Pixar, couldn’t emulate that success until the one-two punch of Tangled and Frozen, which meant that Bolt has gotten lost in the mix. Bolt is not the best Disney movie of recent years, but it’s still very entertaining and assured to be a crowd-pleaser. John Travolta leds his voice to the titular dog who believes that he has superpowers when in reality he just stars in a TV show. This is basically the same as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, but who the hell cares, because this time it’s a tiny dog! Plus, Bolt has a brilliantly sarcastic cat sidekick who is also cute enough that I’m taking a short break from writing this to go and watch the movie yet again.
Like many children of the 90s if you asked me who Beethoven was, I would immediately tell you that he was a dog, and that that stupid classical composer was just trying to steal his thunder. This comes from the fact that Beethoven was my favorite movie about dogs as a kid. The lovable mutt became one of the most famous dogs of cinema, with the first movie, which was directed by Brian Levant (The Flintstones) and starred Bonnie Hunt and Midnight Run’s Charles Grodin, becoming a huge financial success. A staggering seven sequels followed, along with a short-lived cartoon show, showing that for a significant amount of time that the adorable St Bernard was the master of many families wallets. The first movie is also notable for being the film debut of a certain Joseph Gordon Levitt, while also being co-written by John Hughes who wrote it under a pseudonym.
We love cheating a little for these lists which means I’m cheeky enough to have both the classic cartoon version of 101 Dalmatians share the same spot as the equally good live action remake starring Glenn Close as Cruella Deville. Based on the novel by Dodie Smith, the cartoon is still one of Disney’s most popular movies. Though the real star of each version is Cruella Deville. Her evil plan to make a coat out of puppies isn’t just an animal rights nightmare, but she’s foiled by the puppies’ parents so it all turned out all right. If you have to choose between the two versions I would go for the remake since it has everything the original has but with Glenn Close, Hugh Laurie, and there is no substitute for real puppies.
Best in Show
When people mention Christopher Guest’s work the first thing that comes to mind is This is Spinal Tap, but the comedy director has made a remarkable career producing mockumentaries on subjects as wide as folk festivals, mascots, and, in the case of Best in Show, the weird world of competitive dog shows. It’s a common observation that some owners begin to resemble their dogs, and Guest takes this idea and lets it off the leash. Guest is a gifted satirist mainly because he goes against the rules of satire by populating his work with full-fledged characters instead of slyly winking at the thin exaggerations of the type of people who care about this strange canine industry. Best in Show is essential viewing for dog lovers, fans of comedy, and family members that you think resemble any of the movie’s characters. Look around at your relatives with dogs, there is sure to be someone that reminds you of Best in Show.
Turner and Hooch
When considering the sub-genres of movies about dogs, one of the most popular is the buddy comedy. Hollywood was under the impression for a time that everything was better if you added a dog, including Tom Hanks. The result of this was Turner and Hooch, sorry K911 but Hanks tops Belushi every time. Turner and Hooch is a re-jig of a few genres here. The obvious one is the buddy cop movie, with the partnership being made up of man and man’s best friend instead of the psycho and the by the book officer. The other is that classic of the comedy genre: the odd couple. Hanks plays a neat freak policeman, so it makes sense that he is teamed up with the slobbering canine. Like most dog movies, the critics were mean, but Turner and Hooch has become something of a pop culture touchstone since its release.
For every hero there is a monster, and leave it to the master of horror, Stephen King, to create the dog that scares everyone. It’s lucky that Beethoven came out when it did, because the titular Cujo didn’t do St Bernards any favors when the movie was released in 1983. Based on the novel that Stephen King can’t remember writing, the movie does the classic horror move of making the familiar terrifying. Cujo wasn’t always a bad dog, in fact he was a gentle pet until he got rabies after a bat bit him. Once this happens the movie turns into a survival horror as Cujo traps a mother and her child in a car, leaving any thought of escape impossible, oh and he brutally murders the police chief. Cujo was acritical and commercial failure when released but it has developed a cult following so strong that the movie found new relevance when it was featured in an episode of Friends.
Marley and Me
Marley and Me is as rewarding as it is heartbreaking. While I’m not cruel enough to put Old Yeller on this list (though I am cruel enough to put Cujo on it) Marley and Me is the closest this list gets to a weepy. Based on the memoir of The New York Times writer John Grogan, Marley and Me stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as a couple that get a puppy as a practice run for when they have children. The pup is soon revealed to be a menace, as all puppies brilliantly are, Marley soon becomes a part of the family. The magic of Marley and Me is that it shows how important a pet can be to a family, how comforting and positive they can be, and how much they are missed when they are gone. The success of this movie is how, like Marley does with his family, it earns your affection.
Lady and the Tramp
Quick: give me the name of a romantic movie where a down and out drifter falls for an upper-class girl in a romance that is forbidden. Admit it, as soon as you finished reading that question you had the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp going through your mind. Don’t lie, you totally did. That’s the power of this classic Disney movie: that even those who have never seen it feel a connection to the iconic sequences that have become a major part of pop culture. Ridiculously, critics panned the movie when it was released in 1955 (what do critics know, they also panned The Empire Strikes Back and 2001 A Space Odyssey) but Disney has had the last laugh as Lady and the Tramp is still one of the House of Mouse’s most beloved movies. After all, we all like a good love story.
Isle of Dogs
The most recent movie on this list is also the best. Wes Anderson’s stop-motion comedy was a huge hit when it came out earlier this year, and not just with dog lovers. After his uncle exiles all dogs from Japan to garbage island, a young boy called Atari crash lands on the island hoping to find his exiled dog Spots. Along the way he is aided by a pack of mongrel dogs, Atari’s search for Spots could have a greater national significance. A talented voice cast of Anderson regulars, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Harvey Keitel, along with newcomer Bryan Cranston help the director achieve his war-hearted, but off-kilter vision of pursuit movie. The animation is gorgeous, standing tall alongside Anderson’s slightly superior Roald Dahl adaptation of Fantastic Mr. Fox, while sharing that movie’s deadpan humor.